Part 4 of a 4-story series
Rick Tessos health showed little improvement in the days after his girlfriend left Fort Wayne to return to her home in Australia.
He was in pain. His organs were shutting down. Bacteria overwhelmed his bloodstream.
Rick, his doctors and his family started seriously discussing his options, all of which were bleak.
The doctors had done all they could. Rick would be on life support indefinitely. He might last another two months if he was moved to a nursing home.
He was dying.
Ricks sisters, Debby Adams and Teresa Tesso, and his mother, Dorothy Harris, all asked him much the same: Are you in a lot of pain? Do you know how dire your condition is? Do you know you wont be able to come home?
Do you want to be with your departed grandma?
To all the questions, Rick answered yes.
Are you scared? Debby asked.
Rick shook his head, no.
The same day Rick decided to be removed from life support, arrangements were made for his passing.
A priest anointed his forehead and prayed for his salvation. He was given additional pain medication to help him relax.
About 7:30 p.m. his ventilator was shut off, and his dialysis machine was moved into the corner. The room became quieter.
Rick still had a flow of oxygen. His mom and his sisters talked to him and held his hand. But the pain medication was putting him out of touch with the world.
He was trying to say things back to us, and he couldnt make us understand what he was trying to say, his mother said.
They talked to him about this being his time. They told him they were going to miss him, that he would find relief with God.
At one point, his mom left to use the bathroom, and Teresa went to smoke a cigarette. Debby stayed with him.
I was standing there by his bed and saw him take his last breath, and then the nurse came in and said he was gone, she said.
It was a minute or so after 9 p.m. on July 22.
Six days earlier, Ricks girlfriend, Albina Dragoli, had left Fort Wayne optimistic about his recovery. She had flown from Australia to be with Rick after a motorcycle crash put him in a coma. It was their only meeting in a two-year online romance.
She had not told Rick she was returning to Australia, because doctors feared such a goodbye would be too stressful. But in the days that followed, Rick asked for her, and his sister Teresa told him that Albina had gone home.
Not long after Rick died, Albina called the hospital from Australia, hoping to talk to him. A nurse told her to call his house instead.
Albina did, and she learned the tragic news.
I never thought that would happen, she said. Maybe I did but was in denial.
Albina was initially upset when she learned Rick had been removed from life support. Debby explained it was Ricks decision, and Albina understood.
She knew he had been an active person who wouldnt want the inert life that likely awaited him.
Before the crash, Albina would say her prayers and occasionally read the Bible. After the crash, she prayed for Rick. But since his death, she has stepped away from her faith. She now walks under a cloud of questions.
Why didnt he take him straightaway? Why make him wake up and see me? she wonders. Why make me go through all that, you know, hype?
Albina was not able to attend Ricks funeral. His burial Mass was July 27 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Crestline, Ohio, his hometown. He was buried in the churchs cemetery, with a motorcycle etched on his headstone.
He loved life, Debby said. He loved riding his motorcycle, you know, just let the air flow through his hair.
For Ricks 54th birthday, Albina sent him a watch. They spent three hours talking together that day, Aug. 14, 2010. And for the first time, she told him she loved him.
She was worried how he would respond, but he reciprocated.
I love you, too, he told her.
Early in their relationship, Rick was guarded with his feelings. It was hard at first, but yeah, he opened up a lot, she said.
Rick eventually wrote her letters, telling her they were for her eyes only. Albina, a collector of love poetry, would send him poems.
On Aug. 14, what would have been Ricks 55th birthday, Albina posted on his Facebook page a poem, whose author is unknown.
In my heart your memory is kept To Love, To Cherish and to Never forget, the poem read in part.
Months after Ricks death, Albinas memory of him remains potent. The crash and its aftermath still dont seem real to her.
I keep on thinking that he will ring me up and say its a joke, she said. It feels like a bad dream that Im going to wake up.